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Democrats sharply criticize $28.3 billion budget passed in Pa. House

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 4:18 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Democrats sharply criticized a $28.3 billion state spending plan for 2013-14 the House approved on Wednesday that did not include an expansion of Medicaid offered to states under the Affordable Care Act.

“Five-hundred thousand Pennsylvanians without health insurance will be left behind,” said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, an Oakmont Democrat. Medicaid now provides health insurance to 2.2 million Pennsylvanians paid with almost $22 billion in federal and state funds, according to Gov. Tom Corbett's office.

The proposed spending plan also “doesn't come close” to restoring basic education money cut at Corbett's direction in 2011, Dermody added.

The House budget, which is not likely a final plan, increases spending on basic education by $100 million but does not raise state taxes. Overall, it would spend $578 million more than this year's budget, a 2.1 percent increase.

The budget used existing revenues and shifted money to priorities such as basic education while making cuts in other areas and flat funding others, said House Republican spokesman Stephen Miskin. The budget cuts are in areas such as Community and Economic Development, the Department of General Services and the Department of Revenue, according to a copy of the spending plan.

“This budget is a blueprint for good government,” said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Bradford Woods Republican. It's a fiscally responsible and compassionate budget, he said.

It was the first major step by either legislative chamber toward meeting the June 30 constitutional budget deadline.

The House budget vote came shortly after word emerged that the Senate may vote on a liquor privatization plan next week. Details were unavailable. “I can't predict a specific time frame at this point, but seeing action in the Senate next week is not out of the question,” said Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson.

Corbett, a Republican, said he wants the budget, liquor privatization and legislation for new transportation revenue approved before lawmakers' recess for the summer on June 30.

Corbett has resisted Medicaid expansion.

It's a choice for each state under federal health care changes in the Affordable Care Act. Corbett has said he will not agree to it unless the program is more flexible and financially “sustainable.” Governors from about 26 states agreed to the expansion, which, in Pennsylvania, would extend health insurance to 500,000 to 700,000 low-income people.

“The governor is dragging his feet” on Medicaid, said Rep. Joe Markosek, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee from Monroeville.

“No state has signed, in ink, any kind of agreement with the federal government,” said Jennifer Branstetter, Corbett's policy director. Corbett continues to negotiate with the federal government for flexibility in Pennsylvania, she said. The federal government's positions seem driven by “ideology,” she said.

One in six Pennsylvanians receives health insurance through Medicaid. Under the new law, it would be one in four, said Corbett's Deputy Chief of Staff Todd Shamash. “Why shouldn't our goal be one in eight?” Branstetter said.

Corbett wants to increase access to affordable, quality health care for Pennsylvanians, but any solution toward that goal must be sustainable over the long haul, Branstetter said. Corbett's biggest concern is that under the Affordable Care Act, it's “one-size-fits-all” for participating states, she said.

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, told his colleagues Republicans were more interested in “protecting the right-wing movement” than people who need health insurance.

Markosek maintains there would be a net savings to Pennsylvania this fiscal year of $50 million from Medicaid expansion.

Corbett on Wednesday called on the Senate to take action on liquor privatization before the end of the fiscal year.

The Republican governor remained optimistic the General Assembly can approve a bill to sell the state stores and allow grocery stores to sell wine. The House sent a liquor bill to the Senate in March. “I believe we can” get it done, Corbett said.

Pennsylvania and Utah are the only states that control wholesale and retail liquor and wine sales.

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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